Opinion

Israel's Most Combative Minister Actually Invites Dialogue

We can't wait for the perfect politician who will speak and act precisely as we would like in all areas. In the push for cultural justice, Miri Regev is all there is

Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Keter Hamizrah Festival, August 28, 2017.
Rami Shllush

Ironically, the Israel Academy of Film and Television’s pathetic decision not to invite Culture Minister Miri Regev to the annual Ophir Awards ceremony turned the organization into the mirror image of its nemesis, Regev: undemocratic, censorious, violent and above all in a rut. Dividing the world into “us” and “them,” or “good guys” and “bad guys.”

Instead of addressing Regev’s dramatic call for distributive justice in culture — some 70 years late, but we’ll get to that another time — members of the academy, like other cultural organizations, focus on Regev’s tone, her inherent argumentativeness and in particular on the question of who is behind her actions, who she is really serving (that is, Benjamin Netanyahu).

Instead of seriously examining, with purely professional tools, her sharp criticism of the structure of the film foundations, limiting the terms of the heads of the various foundations and cultural institutions (two of whom, Alon Garbuz and Noam Semel, recently retired, one after 40 years and the other after 24 years), or to the problem of the almost unethical nature of the cultural elite, those who in the final analysis decide what’s worth seeing and hearing and what isn’t –- the cultural leaders are busy assessing Regev’s behavior, her timing, her body language, her dress, her stereotype.

As strange as all this will sound, I haven’t yet heard a serious argument by the cultural elite to counter Regev’s complaints or criticism.

When Regev shouts, even her most terrible and defiant shouts, I hear a clear invitation to a dialogue, a courageous effort, even if crude at times, to get down to basics. “Cut the bullshit,” she says, let’s talk about the essence, about equal distribution of the culture budget between the center of the country and the outlying areas, or between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, about basic structure, about the centers of power of Israeli culture and how to build more stable, pluralistic and representative structures in their place.

She’s not talking about celebrities like Lior Ashkenazi, Gavri Banai, Gila Almagor or Meir Shalev, they are only examples of the personalization of the discussion, and not the essence of the speaker’s proposal.

It’s true, absent from Regev’s push for equality are the Palestinians, which in my opinion causes the entire egalitarian idea to collapse. Nor are leftists desirable, nor does her program include freedom of expression. Regev also said that the Sudanese are a “cancer”; she rhetorically expelled MK Haneen Zoabi to Gaza; walked out of a ceremony where a poem by Mahmoud Darwish was read; she consistently denies the Nakba; supported capitalist decisions that harmed mainly those she presumes to represent; demanded blind loyalty to “the symbols of the state”; turned herself into the guardian of “the new Israeliness,” and dried up Arab and Arab-Jewish cultural institutions with foolish, empty excuses.

But I have two answers to all that. The first is: Those things were said before her, at least most of them, although with the standard official Israeli politeness, by at least two culture ministers (Limor Livnat and Matan Vilnai), and the second is that we don’t have the privilege of waiting for the perfect politician who will speak and act precisely, but precisely, as we would like, and in all areas. Regev – that’s what there is.

And so, instead of turning the ground-breaking opportunity that has been offered to Regev and to most of the Israeli cultural institutions for the necessary, ethical, essential change, both sides are busy with the teachings of etiquette arbiter Hanna Bavli. In other words, in educating towards good manners. You’re an animal, says the cultural class, and continues to invite the ministers and overseers, just like in the good old days. Don’t you “Garbuz” me (pick on Mizrahim), says the combative minister, who never says no to moment of glory, especially if it’s controversial.

And only mainstream culture, which is so conservative and monolithic, stands embarrassed in a corner, waiting for the redeeming dialogue that will make it clear to the minister, on the one hand, that culture, even if it’s state-supported, cannot be a mouthpiece of the government – which is so Ceausescu and Erdogan, Putin and Netanyahu – and to people of culture, on the other hand, that ethics doesn’t stop with what is called the left or the Palestinians, but is applicable to everyone. For the Mizrahi, for the outlying areas, for women and yes, for the right and the ultra-Orthodox too, and even for law-abiding settlers. Justice is justice.